Open Thread: I Did Not Have Epistemological Relations With That Pastor


The media titans are making a big deal out of Barack Obama's Kennedy-Romneyesque Speech to Change the Subject. After being battered for days by video of his former pastor saying things like "God Damn America, that's in the Bible, for killing innocent people!", Obama is giving a "major speech on race."

If you're watching it, post your thoughts here. I expect to be brilliant, and delivered brilliantly, but it's a loss for Obama that he even has to give it. Until recently he was able to tell Americans exactly what they wanted to hear about race—"hey, it's all gonna work out!"—without saying a word. Now he's being explicit. And it's never good when TV commentators are tossing around the word "Afrocentric" in Obama segments.

Ben Smith has the text, and here's the "God Damn Rev. Wright!" section:

I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely – just as I'm sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.

But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren't simply controversial. They weren't simply a religious leader's effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country – a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.

As such, Reverend Wright's comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems – two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.

I wonder how much people will focus on the "while I sat in church" business—Obama has said he wasn't there for the stuff ABC has on video (most of which was taken after he was a DC-bound senator, I think), so the spelunking into sermon tapes will probably continue. At least it's more contrite than Mitt Romney's pandering "here, let me pivot and beat up atheists" speech.

UPDATE: Byron York is the de facto skeptic on the speech: "Obama concedes he has heard "controversial" remarks from Rev. Jeremiah Wright during services Obama attended, although Obama does not say what those remarks might have been." Agreed: If the press corps wants to know more about those remarks, they'll keep peppering him with questions about specific sermons. My limited experience with the Obama press corps suggests that they won't. They want to be tougher on him, and the "Obama, hope of his countrymen" story has run its course, but they are not interested in breaking down the doors of his church. Just as they eventually stopped asking Bill Clinton about Gennifer Flowers, they will pull back and start asking Obama about something else.

UPDATE: From Jonathan Martin:

Just as when Mitt Romney addressed another sensitive matter, religion, last December, I can pretty much anticipate the insta-reviews: great success.


Because those assessments will come largely from elites, a niche that is uncomfortable with race and religion playing too prominent a role in campaigns and that looks kindly upon those candidates who seek to move us beyond the embarrasing bigotry of the past.

What actual voters think is a different story, of course.   

Just ask Romney. His speech, a month before the Iowa caucuses, won rave reviews from both mainstream commentators and other Christian Right elites.

Well, the elites understand white Democrats a hell of a lot better than they understand Christian conservatives. So I don't believe reaction to this will be as tone-deaf. But the political media wants Obama to succeed more than it wanted Romney to be the GOP nominee, so some of the difference will be muted. Also, I need to go back and look at the polls, but I'm not sure that a majority of GOP voters were aware that Romney was a Mormon: Certainly the number who did surged after the speech. Obama has been winning primaries when every voter knows he's black and a certain minority (around 10 perent) think he's a Muslim. But they saw him as a "good" black candidate, one with nothing in common with the Al Sharptons and Louis Farrakhans they reel from, and this controversy was changing that.